people who call an elected official about an issue can make a big difference.
Strategies for addressing opposition from the restaurant industry. A participant asked panelists how they dealt with opposition to menu labeling and banning of trans fats in restaurants. Thomases explained that the New York City Board of Health enacts these policies. It is separate from the City Council and not elected, which keeps it relatively insulated politically from the restaurant industry. However, the industry sued the city three times on the menu labeling initiative. The first time, the city lost and had to reshape the initiative. Thomases recommended that jurisdictions considering menu labeling initiatives research these court cases because legal precedent was ultimately established. Leventhal said a menu labeling bill is still pending in Montgomery County. When the recession hit, he pulled back on trying to obtain its passage. In the meantime, he is collecting data on the costs it would require, such as new menus. Policy makers have heard only opposition to the bill; would-be supporters see the issue as somewhat obscure and have not rallied behind it. Leventhal noted that the industry did not offer much opposition to the trans fat ban beyond asking for time to make changes to their offerings. The experience with making restaurants smoke free has been instructive. The industry opposed the measure on financial grounds, but 3 years of data show, in fact, that restaurant revenues have increased.
Institutionalizing change. Vigilance emphasized the need to work with others besides elected officials, who eventually leave office; the issues outlive their terms. He suggested pressuring elected representatives to put plans in place and fund them so they will continue past the politicians’ terms.
Levels of evidence for policy making. An audience member commented on what panelists had said throughout the workshop about evidence. When Karpyn discussed levels of evidence from a scientific point of view, expert opinion ranked last. In contrast, policy makers consider the opinions of experts to be highly valuable. It is important to have good science, but based on the workshop discussions, it is only part of what is needed to effect change.